Embargo Watch

Keeping an eye on how scientific information embargoes affect news coverage

Reuters breaks American Heart Association embargo, loses press access

with 11 comments

This morning, the American Heart Association (AHA) sent out a release saying that Reuters had broken an embargo. The story in question was about new results from CREST (the Carotid Revascularization Endarterectomy Versus Stenting Trial), finding that stents and surgery both prevent strokes.

The study was embargoed until 8:30 Eastern Central, but was posted to Reuters.com at 7:47 Eastern (6:47 Central).

Later, I got a message from Carrie Thacker, the AHA’s director of corporate and media communications:

As a result of this embargo break, all Reuters reporters will be eliminated from our media distribution list, they will no longer have access to our embargoed newsroom where they can have access to our embargoed journal articles and we will not provide any interviews to any Reuters reporters for a period of 6 months. These sanctions will apply to the reporter who broke the embargo for a period of one year.

Unfortunately, Reuters has broken our embargoes before so as you can imagine I have some very angry reporters who wanted to post their story early this morning but we wouldn’t let them due to the embargo. We will also be notifying Reuters management and other Reuters reporters of the situation so they aware of why we are doing this.  This is an unfortunate situation and we certainly don’t like being put in this situation, but if we don’t uphold our embargo policies, others will think they can break them as well.

Given all of the conflicts here — writing about my colleagues, and being subject to these sanctions myself as part of Reuters — I’m not going to offer further comment on this. Thanks for understanding.

[UPDATED 2-28-10, 3:11 Eastern. The study was embargoed until an hour later than I originally reported in the second paragraph, so the story was posted an hour and 43 minutes before embargo, not 43 minutes. Thanks to an eagle-eyed Embargo Watch reader for pointing out this error.]


Written by Ivan Oransky

February 26, 2010 at 4:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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11 Responses

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  1. Suggestion: The AHCJ convenes a meeting to discuss boycotting embargoes. The rest of the journalism profession gets by just fine without them.

    Ford Vox

    February 26, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    • I like that suggestion. Maybe we should start a similar discussion at NASW (I’m on the board.)

      Bob Finn

      February 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    • “The rest of the journalism profession gets by just fine without them.”

      I think not.

      I see many embargoed press releases. Most of them are spurious. But they do cover just about every topic that appears in the serious media.

      I exclude sports and “entertainment” from serious.

      Michael Kenward

      February 26, 2010 at 4:27 pm

  2. I have seen the same blanket bans in the past.

    Someone the far flung depths of a massive organisation does something silly. It may even have been an accident.

    Instead of fingering the individual, the organisation flails around and blocks all access.

    A few questions arise.

    Does it matter?

    How does the AHA expect to spread its stories to the Reuters’ world?

    Will Reuters’ writers do some proper journalism and find the material without the help of the AHA?

    Stuff embargoes. Leave the AHA to peddle its wares and get on with some decent journalism.

    Michael Kenward

    February 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

  3. That’s a pretty big punishment for 43 minutes.

    John Platt

    February 27, 2010 at 1:26 pm

  4. Hello, here’s your Reuters colleague Robert again. This is a good reason to start doing some real reporting and getting the good stuff the old fashioned way instead of honoring pointless embargoes. As usual, I do not speak for Reuters in any way at all in this comment.

    Robert MacMillan

    February 28, 2010 at 11:45 am

    • “This is a good reason to start doing some real reporting and getting the good stuff the old fashioned way instead of honoring pointless embargoes.”

      Exactly. This is something that you will not find any blogger doing.

      You just have to go to a few conferences, or visit a lab or two, to find stories that are not a part of the embargo treadmill.

      Sadly, the gradual decline in the number of staff journalists means that most spend their time chained to a keyboard.

      Michael Kenward

      February 28, 2010 at 1:47 pm

  5. Michael, I stand corrected, you are right there are embargo examples all over the place. However, is there another journalism speciality where they are such a routine part of the landscape (other than book news- I’d say embargoes make pretty good sense there – unless, of course, you can get the book or info on the book through some other means than an advance copy issued to you).

    Ford Vox

    February 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    • I prefer to sit corrected. But you are right, whatever your posture.

      Reporting that depends on journals as a prime source seems to be especially prone to embargo syndrome. The fact that journals are skewed towards science, means that the field is rife with such guff.

      The financial sector simply cannot use the embargo any more. Insider dealing.

      One other area where they love such tricks in the UK is politics. Government departments and others churning out reports like to embargo them. (I’ve been on both sides of that game.)

      Here, at least, they use the fig leaf of Parliamentary privilege to justify their chicanery.

      The government is supposed to tell Parliament what it is up to before it alerts the press. It is all rubbish, of course, ministers leak like sieves. But they can use convention as an excuse for imposing embargoes that die the second they stand up in the house.

      So while I stand by my original comment that science writing is not the only place where you see embargoitis, the domain may be more polluted than most.

      Let’s face it. Embargoes are there so that the people who impose them can see their stories splashed all over the place at the same time. The hacks at the receiving end like it because news editors know that everyone else will carry stories that would other wise get the bum’s rush from editors.

      You know that the embargo is in terminal decline when bloggers, few of whom would know how to find a story without such “privileged” access, start to whine when the system upsets their coverage of embargoed material. That would seem to be a suitable signal to call time on the whole system.

      Publish the paper and leave the world to cover it, or not.

      Michael Kenward

      February 28, 2010 at 4:48 pm

  6. I find it funny when one of the arguments they use in favor of embargoes is “Leveling the playing field”; Isn’t the point of Capitalism, well, you know… you snooze you lose? First come first serve, etc.?


    May 19, 2010 at 12:24 am

    • Even capitalism has some rules. On insider trading, for example.

      If the sharks on Wall Street acted on privileged information, on takeovers for example, they would make a packet at the expense of people who don’t have their knowledge. That is why they are obliged to inform all shareholders at the same time.

      This is not completely irrelevant for science. Nature, NEJM, PNAS etc can influence share prices when they have papers on important drugs.

      But there even an embargo might be illegal as someone can act on the information before it goes public.

      Michael Kenward

      May 19, 2010 at 12:15 pm

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